Faith and family: St. Mary members take vows to Franciscan order

Published 1:26 am Saturday, October 22, 2016

By Morgan Mizell
The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Charles Garrity and Ruth Powers answered the call to a more gospel-centered life by taking a journey that is more than 700 years old.

One month ago, the  members of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez took their vows to join the Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in Baton Rouge.

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The Secular Franciscan Order was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. It is made up of men and women who desire to live a life devoted to following the gospel of Jesus Christ in the manner of St. Francis without having to live in a religious community like monks or nuns. While the SFO does require members to follow a rule of life approved by the Vatican and make a formal public profession of the intention to follow the rules, joining the order allows them to continue to live in the world in a normal family life. The difference is secular Franciscans make a solemn promise to live the values of the gospel in everything they do.

During the ceremony of profession, the Rev. David O’Connor celebraed with the assistance of Powers’ brother, Michael Shumway, who was recently ordained as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. Other family and church members attended.

Garrity and Powers said the decision to become secular Franciscans was not a decision they took lightly.

“It is not like joining a club,” Powers said. “It requires a long time of spiritual formation and discernment. The whole process took us a little more than three years.”

Their involvement in the church has been strong for many years and both felt a calling to do more. A discussion with another secular Franciscan seemed to be just what they were both looking for at the time.

“I had a desire to strengthen and deepen my spirituality in communion with the church,” Garrity said. “I wanted to strive to live my life in a manner reflective of St. Francis’ example of a gospel-centered life.”
The call to do more came to Powers nearly four years ago during her prayer time. She has been actively involved in various roles at her church for more than 30 years. She also has a master’s degree in theology with an emphasis in sacred scripture and has taught theology at Loyola University, religion at Cathedral School and is involved with the religious education ministries of  St. Mary parish. However, she felt something was missing.

“I began to pray to have God reveal to me what the something more was and over the course of several months bits and pieces began to fall into place,” Powers said. “A few weeks after Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis, I ran into an acquaintance, who unbeknownst to me, was a Secular Franciscan, and told her of my struggle with the sense of being called. She told me, ‘You are being called to be a Franciscan,’ and I felt something telling me, ‘That’s it. That is what you are supposed to do.’”

Garrity explains the process in a series of steps.

“You start by going to a few meetings as a guest or observer, and  then you become an inquirer,” Garrity said. “You then become a candidate and attend all the meetings, which we did monthly, and then you make the profession.”

Secular Franciscans are also called to preach, but not in the manner of most in the way most might think. Powers noted that St. Francis himself said, “Preach the gospel always, use words only if necessary.”

“It is how we live that is to be a gospel example,” Powers said. “It is not really about what we say.”

Neither Powers or Garrity have doubts about the new step in their faith life.

“ From the very beginning, I felt this was a calling from God,” Garrity said. “I was eager to undertake it, and as I progressed through the program, this feeling was affirmed and strengthened.”

Both say they hope to see an fraternity here in Natchez.

“It is our hope to form a local fraternity here in Natchez,” Powers said. “It will take a minimum of five fully professed members to do this, and as you can see, this is not a step one undertakes lightly.”
Powers said they are looking to find any interest in the local Catholic community who may be interested in meeting with them once a month for prayer, fellowship and study.